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She waits with Pepper and Jane, each other them wrapped in a handmade blanket. Pepper is swamped in red and gold, Jane in red and silver. Darcy holds a wilted gardenia in her hands and dreams of chasing kisses under the stars.

She wakes when JARVIS announces that Sir has a message for the ladies. Tony's voice comes out of the speakers and apologizes, says it looks like they'll be home late and not to wait up. There's a tension in his voice before the recording cuts out, a secret code that Pepper understands with a gasp and immediately gets on the phone. Jane is worried too, but she tries to play it off and mutters something about her lab and work she's just remembered

(Darcy isn't fooled, she knows avoidance, she knows despair, she knows panic and desperation and fear, she knows all of them intimately. She's drank from their wells, slept in their beds, and sought refuge in their arms)

and Darcy is left alone, wrapped in a mismatched blanket and the remnants of sweet dreams and memories not her own. She asks JARVIS to turn on the TV, to try and make sense of things, but when the words flash across the screen

(AVENGERS MISSING, PRESUMED DEAD scrolls across her sight)

the world drops out from beneath her.

-o-

After the first week of no word, she convinces Pepper that she needs to get out. She's bitten her nails past the quick, she's cleaned and scrubbed her rooms four times over. She's screamed and cried herself to sleep in Clint's bed for the past three nights in a row, desperate and needy for his scent. She's begun to lose weight and Pepper only has to look at her face to see what she can't say before she's making arrangements. Planes are grounded, trains aren't running, highways are closed down, but the power of Pepper Potts-Stark comes through. Darcy arrives back in Devil's Elbow, Missouri days later, wearing a stolen leather jacket and a loopy green scarf. Evie is there to greet her with a worried frown and in between admonishments

(“Darcy girl, what in the blazing hell are you doing, traveling at a time like this! Didn't your Gran teach you any common sense!”

“Evie, I-”

“Lord above, girl, you ain't been eating. Look at you, skin and bones.”)

She sees the moment it clicks in Evie's brain, and Darcy promptly bursts into tears.

-o-

It's not until much later, when Darcy's been settled into Evie's spare room, that she's able to talk. She can only get a few words out before she's choking and crying again, and Evie is wrapping her in a hug that smells of lavender cookies and sun tea and she's crying harder now, memories colliding and mixing and then she's sobbing her heart out to her Gran's best friend.

Evie doesn't judge, doesn't interrupt. She lets her cry and wail and when she's done, she wraps her in a fluffy pink and yellow blanket sitting on the spare bed and makes her a cup of cocoa. She sits with Darcy until the cup is finished, and then hands her the leather jacket and scarf and pushes her towards the door. There's a dusty old Jeep sitting in the driveway, and Evie hands over the keys with a smile. Darcy laughs, wild and rusty and more free than she's felt in years, and she's off. The back roads are just like she remembers them, a little more overgrown in some places and a little more worn in others

(those local boys never did learn how to take the roads like she did, never learned until they broke an axle or bottomed out on one of the deeper ruts)

and always leading her back home.

-o-

Her mother refused to live in the house after Gran passed, called the house and the family plot on the far southeast corner “macabre” and “tasteless”, had left for more cosmopolitan climes as soon as she could. She couldn't sell the house without Darcy's permission; half belonged to Darcy and her inheritance was held in trust until she turned twenty one.

(not that it mattered, she was never going to sell the house no matter what her mother wanted)

Marilyn was furious, and essentially left her daughter behind while she tried to escape the small town she never loved.

(“Of course the brat won't sell, she loves this place and I don't understand why. Who in their right mind would want to live next to a graveyard?” her mother lamented over the phone one night, and Darcy had to bite her tongue)

She parks the Jeep in Gran's old parking spot, only a few feet from the porch steps. The stairs had been repaired recently, the roof replaced. Her SI paycheck isn't that impressive, but she uses it to keep her childhood home from disrepair. The steps creak and groan as she climbs, but the door opens without a sound and she's hit with a sense of nostalgia so strong she almost falls. She clutches the door frame and waits until the earth stops spinning around her before she moves. The furniture is mostly gone, save for the few bits and pieces Marilyn couldn't sell, and what's left is dusty and covered in grime.

(She's delighted to discover that Evie didn't take the loom after all, and Marilyn didn't sell it off in her fervor.)

The kitchen isn't much better, and the electricity and water and gas were shut off years ago, but it still smells of lavender and home in a way that drives Darcy out into the night.

The garden is overgrown, the gardenia trees heavy with leaves in the starlight, and she almost loses her footing and falls more than once. She doesn't let it stop her and races to the family plot, fumbles her way through the gate. Gran's grave is close by the entrance and she sinks to her knees and cries. She screams and cries and doesn't stop until she's gasping and hiccuping and sick from all her tears. The wind rustles in the trees and she sinks into herself.

-o-

She dreams of Clint.

She dreams that he's watching her, and when she sees him, he smiles

(her heart nearly breaks from how much she misses him)

and he crosses to her, wrapping her in his arms and he's kissing her and she's shaking because she's missed him so much

(“You gotta keep waiting for me, baby,” he murmurs in her ear, and she swears her heart breaks right then, because she would give anything to hear him call her that right now.

“Come back to me,” she replies, and kisses him before he can answer.

“I'm trying, sweetheart, I'm trying. Just keep waiting, keep waiting for me, please.”)

and this is pure Clint, not Hawkeye. Hawkeye would never show this much, never reveal what he's feeling, not like this

(“You look good in my jacket,” he teases, and she smiles through her tears.

“I had to have a piece of you with me.” she admits, and if she thought his grin was brilliant before, it's positively blinding now as he holds her close)

and never be so needy and hungry for her. She dreams she has a gardenia in her hair again, and he smiles as he pulls it free

(“You're beautiful,” he says, twirling the flower between his fingers. “Wear more of these for me when I get back?”

“I'll wear them every day,” she promises, “Just come back.”)

before he's kissing her again and her heart is full to bursting. She dreams of his smile and his voice, his hands and his arms, his warmth and humor everything that makes him Clint. His expression is searching when he gives her one last kiss, as if he's memorizing every inch of her face, and she wakes with his taste on her lips and dew on her skin.

-o-

She wakes that morning with a sense of purpose, with a sense of something that she can't identify, won't identify, because she can't let herself fall to pieces, not yet, not ever. So she drives back to Evie's and asks her to call her sons and grandsons, nephews and cousins and any able-bodied young man that she knows to help her turn her house around. Evie laughs and tells her that she has never resembled her Gran more than in that minute, and goes off to make her calls.

It takes a day or two, but soon the grit and grime are gone. The utilities are back on, her bank account is several hundred dollars lighter, but her eyes are shining and her hands are aching and her heart is full. She thanks all of them with sweet tea and cookies at noon, and thanks them again with beers when they head home. Her belongings, her and Gran's treasures, are out of storage and back where they once belonged. She buys a queen-sized bed, finds the old quilts and sheets and makes up her old room herself. She even buys new twin beds for the bigger of the guest rooms, a new dining table and sofa and chairs. She arranges the furniture as best she can, but it's not quite right and something is missing, and it's not until Evie lets herself in with her old spare key that she can give voice to her doubts.

(“Well of course something is missing, Darcy girl,” Evie rolls her eyes at her foolishness, “You can't live what you've lived and not expect things to change. You've spent so long trying to keep it the same that you haven't noticed you've changed too.”

“Evie-”

“Darcy girl, I love you, and you're always welcome here,” Evie sighs with an exasperated fondness, “But this ain't where you belong, not anymore. You may have called this place home, but it's not home, not anymore, not for the woman you are now. You were never a drifter, Darcy, but you've been drifting for far too long. Find a place to call home, girl, before it's too late.”)

She hands Darcy a glass of sweet tea and a plate of leftover lemon cookies and sits with her on the porch, rocking back and forth on the new swing as she tells Darcy stories of her Gran from their shared youth. They laugh and cry until the sun sinks below the horizon, and Evie makes her way back home with a promise to return tomorrow, maybe with some of the ladies from the old church circle

(“There's gonna be a fiber fair a county over, tomorrow morning,” Evie calls over her shoulder before she drives off. “I wouldn't miss it, if I were you.”)

and they can get together and craft and gossip, like they used to do all those years ago, and Darcy's heart fills just a little bit more.

-o-

She dreams of Gran.

She's smiling and nodding and singing an old bluegrass song as she walks through the old garden, plucking herbs for cooking and other plant bits for dyes. It's a familiar image, and Darcy finds herself walking beside her, voice rising and joining on the chorus. When the song ends, Gran doesn't say anything and instead starts another, a call-and-response favorite from Darcy's childhood, and Darcy joins in.

She loses track of how long they walk, picking and harvesting and singing, but eventually Darcy realizes this isn't a memory, this is a goodbye, in the language Gran knew best. And so when the next song ends, Darcy is the one to start the next. It's a song of thanks and love and praise, and while she was never religious or even faithful in the way that her Gran was, she feels that the words mean all that she can't say, never did say, and judging by Gran's smile, it's the right song to sing.

-o-

She calls Jane early to check in. What was meant to be a short escape turns into an even longer stay, she explains to her boss, and while Jane is confused by the cheer in her voice, she's pacified by her words

(“Relax, Jane. I'm safe, and sane, and once I'm done here, I'll be coming home.”)

She may just be an assistant, but she's also a friend, and she's never been gladder for it when she somehow gets what she suspects is a very generous emotional suffering bonus deposited in her bank account. She's not complaining, if anything, she's grateful she doesn't have to use the Stark Black card to get what she needs.

She pulls on sturdy jeans and a flannel, finds her boots and grabs Clint's jacket before she hops into Evie's Jeep to go to the fiber fair over in Cook County. The pre-dawn morning is clear and bright, and Evie has the radio tuned to the old country station. They sing along with Patsy and Merle, with Johnny and June, Emmylou and Ricky. She howls along with Willie and wails with Waylon, and Evie laughs when her voice cracks and she grins back, wild and free with a flower in her hair.

She buys a bale of washed Missouri merino and pays the man at the stall with a kiss on the cheek to deliver it to the Jeep. She steals Evie's work gloves and browses the dyes in search of the perfect black-violet, the right burgundy. She sees a perfect Corriedale wool-silk blend in steel blue that reminds her of his eyes, and she buys that too. She pays for new dye pots and stir rods, and lugs it all back by herself, hands encased in the borrowed gloves. Evie is talking and chatting with women over in the shade, and Darcy waves before she's back and searching for more.

(“Good lord above, girl, you planning on marrying the man or burying him?” Evie hollers across the way and she laughs in reply)

They head back to the house and Evie lets her out to unhitch the trailer before bouncing down the road, promising to be back with the church circle ladies and some gentlemen to help her move her supplies. She grins and shouts her thanks before going to start fires in the old gravel-lined pits. She finds the old tripods her Gran used for the same purpose, and starts making up wash stations. By the time Evie comes back with the ladies, it's about the middle of the day and they've brought luncheon and their own projects to work on. The house is filled with laughter and voices and Darcy grins as she stirs her pots and dunks her fleece,

(“I ain't seen you this happy in a long time, Darcy girl.”

“I wasn't this happy in a long time, Evie.”

“But you are now?” Evie gives her a considering look and shakes her head in mock despair. “And for some fella in leather and spandex, too!”

Evie!”)

singing all the while.

-o-

It's been years since the Lewis household has been this alive, and word soon spreads through the town that Darcy has returned. Gran's old friends begin to pile in to cluck and pluck and chirp at Darcy, to feed and fatten her up. Their sons and grandsons follow to wink and smile and flirt, and she laughs and sends them on their way with a smile. Her heart's been taken and taken well, she says, and loses count of how many sighs and forlorn looks she gets, but late at night she falls into bed with a jacket held close and dreams of blue eyes.

(“Keep waiting for me, sweetheart, I'm almost home.”

“I'll be waiting, handsome, just come back to me.”)

Pepper is worried but doesn't have the heart to bring her back to the Tower, back to the silence and the stillness when she's so full of warmth and cheer. She invites her and Jane to come out for a bit, to see what's cured her aching heart, but doesn't think they'll take her up on it until she sees the sleek Audi driving down the chewed-up road. She lets out a whoop and tears off down the steps, the ladies clucking and hollering at her through their laughter. Pepper and Jane are barely out of the car when Darcy is there and wrapping them in hugs and kisses to their cheeks

(“Oh yeuch, Darcy, you smell awful!”

“Good to see you too Janey, good to see you too.”)

and grabbing their bags from Happy. She takes them up the stairs and introduces them all around before dropping their bags off in the guest rooms.

(Happy refuses to take up the single room, and then refuses to share a room with the ladies. She rolls her eyes but makes up the new fold-out couch for him, and he thanks her so profusely she has to tempt him with food to stop.)

She pours Happy a glass of Emma's lemonade and hands him a plate of Rita's cured ham and cheddar sandwiches, and his eyes grow to the size of saucers at the taste. She laughs at Pepper's delicate footwear and finds an old pair of boots from her teen years that fit the slender woman just fine (once she puts on thick socks and smiles, embarrassed until Darcy cracks a joke about Barbie feet). Jane is already dressed for the area, jeans and flannel and boots, but she's mesmerized by the borderline chemistry lab Darcy has set up out back for her dyes.

Happy is eating and Pepper is soon laughing and crocheting something with Anna Jean and Marianna, and Jane is asking a million questions about the chemical process for dyes between bites of ham and gulps of sweet tea, and Darcy feels the pieces of her heart settle in new ways.

(and if they just happen to pass her a few shirts that smell like spice and woods and Clint, her grin just happens to get bigger and brighter)

-o-

Pepper and Jane don't stay for long, the demands of SI calling them back to New York. They tell her while Darcy is dyeing fleece with her hair pulled back and her sleeves rolled up, and she rolls her eyes at their silliness and tells them she'll take care of it.

They don't understand what she means until they come down for dinner and every person they've met in Devil's Elbow is there, plus ones they haven't, and all of them with food. She laughs at their faces and tells them they're a part of her family now, which means they're part of the town, and the town was sending them off properly.

There's singing and dancing, and Anna Jean's son Carson pulls out his fiddle and plays for the whole party. Darcy finds herself singing along with all the songs she knows, humming the words she doesn't, and eating too much food to fit into her jeans the next day, and she can't find it in herself to care. In a way, she knows this is her goodbye as well, and the town seems to know it too, and any and all have come to come and pay respects.

The night ends with half those assembled singing along to a rendition of “Will the Circle by Unbroken” led by Rita's husband Roy, while Carson wails away on his fiddle and Sarah James pulls out her banjo to pluck along. It's crazy and silly and over-the-top, but genuine in a way you can't get in New York City, so she lets her old classmate William Siles pull her into a promenade around the yard with a grin.

-o-

Pepper and Jane leave the next morning, Happy driving, Darcy standing on the porch and waving goodbye against the rising sun. She's got a bit more to do today, she has to card and prep the fleece for spinning, and she sets to it with a gusto that betrays the pain in her heart

(“You're finally settling down, Darcy girl,” she tells her reflection, and pins a flower in her hair.)

at their departure. Rita and Anna Jean stop by later on to see how she's doing

(and to offer their help and their fiber cards, and Darcy's not foolish enough to turn them down)

after her friends have left, and she's grateful. The house has been near to bursting the entire time she's been back here, but it's empty and she's not as happy as she once was at the thought. She's grateful for them keeping her company, and so they all sit on the porch and take turns telling stories and making tea.

She sings as she works, bits and pieces of whatever song floats into her brain, and by the time they stop for lunch, the steel blue wool-silk has been spun into a thin, soft yarn, perfect for gloves and scarves, and the majority of the burgundy is carded into rolags and ready to spin. She is determined to finish up by nightfall, so she makes a quick lunch of leftovers

(with praise a-plenty for Rita's ham)

and they get back to it. When the burgundy is all carded and ready, they offer to start on the black-violet, but Darcy shakes her head with a secret smile

(she wants to be the only one responsible for that yarn, for the effort and love it takes)

and sends them back home with kisses on the cheek and promises to call them before she leaves. She sits at her wheel until the sun goes down and her eyes ache from the strain. She changes into an antique nightgown that night, a creation of ivory satin and lace that softly clings and makes her think of Clint's expression, should he ever see her in it

(she wants to show him all her nightgowns, all her robes, all of her, if only because then he would be home)

and falls asleep with a wicked smile on her lips.

-o-

Dream Clint is as appreciative of her nightgown as she imagined Real Clint would be, and she wakes after daybreak to tingling lips and a warm lassitude in her limbs. She rolls out of bed and only takes the matching robe before floating her way down the stairs to the kitchen. She makes a pot of rose hip tea, pulls out a muffin left behind from Pepper and Jane's departure, and has a lazy breakfast before turning on her StarkPad

(watching the news sites and waiting for any sort of sign has become her secret ritual, a habit born of pain and loneliness and waiting to see if they were coming home)

to find that it's still the same, no news of the Avengers and she wills herself not to droop, not to worry. She has faith in Clint, faith in all of them, and she desperately believes that her dreams have some kernel of truth in them, that they will be coming home.

She cleans up her breakfast and takes herself upstairs to change. There's a feeling in the air today, the crackle of a storm waiting to break. She knows something's coming, something big, and lets her heart hope more than she probably should.

She decides on shorts and one of the shirts Jane and Pepper brought her, spicy and woodsy and a dark red that sets off her hair. She pins up her curls and slips a fresh gardenia behind her ear, and drags her spinning wheel down into the back yard. The dye pots are long since cleaned and packed away, but the view is nice and the smell of gardenias in full bloom surrounds her. She finishes up the burgundy, but doesn't bother carding the black-violet, just starts spinning with the wheel. It comes out slightly fluffier than she wants and nowhere as near as smooth, but she pictures it spun and knit into a sweater, plain and dark and form-fitting on his shoulders, and she finds she doesn't care.

She misses JARVIS and his ability to select the right music for her moods, but she still has her old battered iPod, recovered from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s possession after Son of Coul died, and she slips the buds into her ears and lets it play. She loses track of time, lost in her wheel, but she comes around when her throat is dry and aching from all her singing and humming. There's a bottle of water sitting by her side that she didn't put there, and she stiffens before she registers the feel of eyes on her and she's ripping her earbuds out and turning around in one move-

and Clint is there, leaning against the porch railing, wearing sunglasses and boots, jeans and a tshirt with his arms across his chest, a shy smile on his lips and a battered old cowboy hat on his head and she's out of her chair and up the steps before she even realizes she's moving. He catches her and pulls her close, hands tangling in her hair as he pulls her in for their first kiss in over a month, and she's smiling through her tears and he's smiling through his laughter. It's messy, it's complicated and they aren't matching up quite right but she doesn't care, he's here, he's home

(“Told you I was coming back, didn't I?”

“Told you I was waiting, didn't I?”)

and keeps kissing her until the frantic energy calms into something slower but just as intense. Darcy's head is swimming as he tilts her head back and nuzzles at her throat, his stubble catching and rubbing against her skin. She whimpers and he chuckles, low and deep in a way that makes her knees weak until he's the only thing keeping her upright.

Somehow they're in her bedroom and his hands are trembling as he eases her out of her clothes. She's shaking as she traces the muscles in his shoulders and back, as she gently nips at his skin. They take their time exploring, touching and tasting and learning each other in that tender first-time lovers way. There are bruises all over him, sickly green and pale yellow and deep angry red and purple. Her hands are soft and she kisses each one, marks their existence with her lips and fingertips, and he sighs and groans into her neck when she touches them.

(“You're here, you're really here.”

“I'm really here. I came back to you, sweetheart, and I'll die trying every time.”)

His hands are rough but gentle where he touches her, runs his hands over her curves as if he's memorizing every inch, cataloging every secret place that makes her gasp and sigh. His lips are soft against hers, hungry but controlled in a way that makes her cry for more until she's shuddering against him as he twists and crooks his fingers just right.

(“Again?”

He smiles at her, crooked and wicked and she grins back.

“Gotta make up that month somehow, don't we?”)

He pulls the flower from her hair and twirls it between his fingers, and her breath catches at how familiar a sight it is

(“Wearing this for me?”

“I've been, handsome. Every day.”)

before his mouth is on hers and they're moving together, warm and slick and so close. Her head falls back and she pleads with him, begs him for release and he grunts and bites her throat and she swears the stars burst before she's falling and he's catching her, building her back up over and over again until they both fall together.

It's not until later, when they're laying together in bed with sweat cooling in the night breeze, that she asks him about what happened and where they were. He can't answer everything, even if he wanted to, but she finds out the important things

(“How did-

“Tony did something. Built a machine so we could communicate through dreams.”

“Is it- I mean, did you bring it back?”

“No. I don't think it'll ever work on this side, and I'm fine with that. I've got the real deal right here, and that's all I need.”)

and that's all she needs. He pulls her close and rest his head over her heart, and she runs her hands through his hair. They both need reassurance, they both need comfort, and she's not going to deny him anything he wants

(unless he asks her what she's making out of that black-violet yarn. She's never spoiled one of her gifts before, she's not going to do it now, regardless of how much she feels for him)

right now, but she will protest if he wants to get dressed.

-o-

She wakes up to an empty bed, deliciously aching and refreshed. She pulls on her nightgown and robe and makes her way downstairs, searching for Clint and stopping, stunned, at the sight of Bruce's head peeking over the back of her couch, eyes bleary and exhausted. Natasha and Bucky are curled up together in the recliner, and the Russian's eyes are sparkling at her surprise. Steve appears only to choke and stammer at the sight of her in her nightclothes and she laughs in delight. She doesn't see signs of Thor or Tony, but imagines that both of them were anxious to get back to their respective lady loves and doesn't fault them for not stopping in overnight.

She hears a noise in the kitchen and finds Clint, barefoot and shirtless in a pair of jeans, standing at the stove. He's got one pan with thick cut bacon sizzling under the press, another with seasoned whipped eggs, and a pot of oatmeal going on the back burner. The radio is turned to the old country station and he's humming along to Hank Williams; a pot of coffee sits on the table between the kerosene lamps. She's knocked sideways by the sudden pounding in her heart and head

(home, she chants, home home home, he's home)

and gasps and catches his attention. Anything he was going to say is lost in the press of her lips against his, and he tucks her into his side and keeps her there, safe and close and with him, while he finishes cooking. It's peaceful and she sinks into his warmth, listening as he murmurs words soft and sweet and loving into her hair. The mood is only broken by Bucky coming into the kitchen for coffee,

(“Hell man, can't you leave off for one fuckin' minute with the sugary-sweet?”

“With this girl? Not on your life.”)

and even then there's a fond exasperation in her tone as she scolds him for being crude before they're joined by the others, and her house is full and happy again.

-o-

Darcy doesn't want to leave.

At least not until her spinning and knitting is done, but she doesn't tell them that, only says she has things she has to do, things to bury and put away, and the smile Clint gives her is all the proof she needs that this is right.

She makes up the smaller guest room for Bucky and Natasha, and Steve's more than happy to help move a new bed in for them

(they insist on paying for it, and on buying groceries too. Darcy agrees with a wicked laugh, and grins when they go to town with her and everyone there glares until Darcy introduces them; Anna Jean is the first to pinch Bruce's butt, and she's still laughing at his expression when they return home)

and they help decorate with ridiculous knickknacks and souvenirs until it becomes more like their home than just hers. Evie stops by on a hourly basis with hearty casseroles and home-cooked delights, and Darcy is only too happy to have her stay for dinner. She thinks Evie is the only one left alive who can make Barnes into a respectful dinner guest, and she never gets tired of watching her dress him down for being rude at the table.

Bruce is reluctant to stay at all, but once she shows him the peace the Midwestern nights could bring, he's more than willing to stay a bit longer. She borrows camping supplies from Roy and he sets off alone for the farthest edge of the property. Natasha and Bucky occasionally go out with leftovers for him, but usually stick with shooting pool and playing poker at the bar in the center of town. They get into only one fight, and it's with Carl Johnson over collegiate sports. Steve is entranced with all the natural beauty, and she digs out her old film camera for him. The look on his face when he discovers just how to get the right angles and lighting is amazingly endearing, and soon half his pictures are decorating the walls and the rest are sent back to the Tower.

Clint doesn't question her request to stay; content to have more time with her after his adventures in what they lightly refer to as “No-Space”, but she sees the look in his eyes sometimes, and she knows that it's going to take more than time away to help him heal.

-o-

They get a phone call a week and a half later. The world has discovered their return, discovered they're alive and have been recovering, and it hasn't been enough time yet but they're being called back to New York and Darcy feels her jigsaw heart begin to break at the look in Clint's eyes.

They haven't made love since that first night, content to hold each other in the moon's glow and kiss away each other's fears, but tonight there is a bruising frenzy to his touch. He's rough and demanding and Darcy is sore in ways she hasn't been in years, but the distant look fades from his eyes when she's holding him after.

(and that's all that matters to her, really)

-o-

He doesn't want her to come with, and she's not surprised. They're still fragile, still healing, and she knows he doesn't want her to be exposed to the circus of the Avengers' return, so he asks her to stay there and wait for him again. He promises to return soon, promises her that everything will be settled and she can come home. She nods, knows without saying that there's something he's hiding, and knows he wants to tell her but can't

(so of course it comes out in the worst possible way, at the press conference when a tall fit blonde launches herself into his arms and calls him her husband on national television. She feels her heart tumble and break, feels the world tilt and the rush is in her ears again, and she doesn't think, just feels)

until there's nothing left, nothing but sad songs and the burn of cheap whiskey under the starry Midwestern sky.

-o-

She doesn't answer her phone, doesn't check the news sites anymore. Instead she sits in the sun on her porch and knits. The burgundy is first, a concoction of feather-fine lace that looks more like wings than a shawl, and she refuses to cry when it's complete.

The steel blue is next, and she zones out to the sound of the radio and the warmth of the sun and she comes to with a pair of fingerless gloves and a matching scarf, all simple and rugged in a way that she doesn't recognize at first. She remembers when laying wildflowers on her grandparents' graves that Gran had made a similar set for Gramps, years ago, and this time there is no whiskey burn as she cries.

Evie tries her hardest, and the rest of the ladies try as well, and Darcy indulges them in a few appearances out and about town. She even consents to church the Sunday after, sings along to the hymns and the gospels but has to leave when they begin “Amazing Grace”.

(she's forgiven for this sin, as she was always wild and young at heart, and it's obvious to all her heart is broken and aching again.

“Lord help him if he tries to come back through town, I'll tell you what.” she grins wickedly at Evie that night.

Evie nearly chokes on her tea from laughing so hard and has to beg the Lord's forgiveness for such thoughts, and on his day no less.)

-o-

A few days after the event, she calls up Evie on the ancient telephone and invites her over for breakfast, asks her for a ride into town. She needs cleaning supplies and to restock her depleted fridge

(one of the things she's missed most about the Midwest is how inexpensive things are here)

and Evie, bless her, doesn't question and says she'll be right over. Darcy uses the time to go back upstairs to her bedroom, back to a hidden board now under her bed, and pulls out an antique jewelry box made from maple. Gramps carved it for her when she was still fumbling plastic needles, told her to use it to keep her most secret treasures. Inside are her grandparents' wedding rings, small bands that have been beaten to a soft burnished gold. She finds a leather cord and threads it through both rings, knotting it once to keep them sliding around, then again at the ends to drape around her neck like a talisman.

She waits for Evie with black coffee and toast. Evie, unflappable, unstoppable Evie, doesn't mention the town gossips or how they're dying to see how Darcy's handling all of this drama, doesn't mention the jacket on over her flannel or how the sun catches on the glints of gold around her neck. She doesn't mention the fire in Darcy's eyes or the steel in her voice, but she's showing pride in Darcy all the same.

-o-

She's not wearing the flower in her hair this morning, but that's because she's got an entire month's worth of cleaning to do, and flowers would just make things complicated. She does feel slightly naked without it, almost like she's missing a piece of herself, so she plucks one from the vase in the entryway on their way out and slides it behind her ear. Evie doesn't say anything, just starts the Jeep and drives into town. The radio is on, but for once Darcy isn't singing. She's listening, her jaw set and her eyes sharp as they drive into town.

She expects the condolences, she expects the pitying looks. She even expects the whispers, but by the end of their trip her head is pounding and there's an ache in her jaw from clenching her teeth. She doesn't deign to respond to any of the comments she overhears until she overhears one about her Gran

(“-not surprising, you remember how her grandmother used to be, up all night and racing with those boys-”)

that has Evie gripping her arm and escorting her out of the store before she can even finish paying. She locks Darcy in the Jeep and goes back in by herself. She comes out with the cart and the sort of ferocious smile that makes Darcy think of Natasha, and she smiles back, just as grim, just as fierce.

-o-

Avoiding everything isn't helping like it used to, and she's forgotten that she has people who care about her now. It's been a week since the press conference and she's staring at the night sky when there's the sound of a car and the crunch of gravel in the drive. She gets to her feet in time to see a beat-up old van she doesn't recognize come to a stop, the doors opening to release Jane, Pepper and Natasha. At the sight of her sister-friends, the tears come again and she's sobbing into her hands and Natasha is holding her close, murmuring in Russian into her hair as Jane wraps thin arms around her middle and Pepper has that stupid RV blanket to drape over them all.

-o-

It takes her a while to calm down, even longer for sleeping arrangements to be set up

(“Jesus, Darcy, do you even have any sheets that aren't embroidered?”

“None of my sheets are embroidered, Jane.”

“Tell that to your linen closet.”

“Wha- oh. I, ah, don't remember doing that. I think I may have gone a little crazy.”

“Gee, you think?”)

which are promptly ignored as they all pile into Darcy's bed and huddle together under the blankets. Pepper has brought a very nice bottle of wine, something fancy and French and made for sipping; Natasha has brought vodka, something clear and Russian and strong enough to peel the paint off the door, and Jane pulls out a veritable chest of dark chocolate from somewhere and they all offer their treats around. They turn off the lights, turn the radio on low, and listen to each other breathing in the dark. None of them push, none of them pry, and they are rewarded when Darcy starts to talk.

She tells them about always knowing, always seeing, learning how to survive . She tells them her mother, about Gran and Gramps and how she was raised in this house. She tells them about surviving, about losing her sense of home, how she packed it all away and tried so hard to keep it secret and sacred and safe. She talks about how Jane was the first to wiggle past her walls, how Erik was next, with Thor crashing behind. She talks about how Pepper helped, about Tony and Natasha. She talks about Steve and Bucky and Bruce and Sam and avoids all mention of Clint until she runs out of words.

They think she's fallen asleep until she whispers about him, about his eyes and his hands and how he always managed to make her feel safe without trying. She talks about his scent, his kisses, his heart. She tells them about the shared dreams, how he was so good, so worried, so Clint

(Natasha shifts and Darcy can't tell if she's angry at her, angry at Clint, angry at herself, but she can tell that she is slipping from Natasha to Widow and she still cares so much that she doesn't want him hurt, he's hurting enough, she's sure)

that it was like a dream to see him at the house, something beautiful and pure, a wish come true. She tells them about their first time, tells them about the kisses and whispers after. She tells them about cooking with him, about sitting at his side on the porch swing while he rocked and she spun and they both sang along to the radio.

She tells them how she used to want a love that was danger and starlight, something pure and sweet and heady to the point of pain, but she's not sure she can do that crazy race against the night anymore, and she's so lost without him now.

None of them tell her about him, none of them defend him.

(Jane burrows into her side, and she's gasping and hiccuping after her last bout of honesty, and Pepper is rubbing her back while Natasha holds her hands)

They keep her secrets, and reward her trust with secrets of their own. One by one they start to speak, and Darcy starts to listen.

Pepper starts, quiet and soft. She talks about Tony, about losing him the first time and almost losing him the second and third and fourth times. She talks about watching him go off to fight with her heart in her throat, and how she's a nervous wreck until he's home safe in her arms. How some days she's not sure it's worth it, and then other days she can't think of anything she'd want more.

Jane tells her about how she felt lost after Thor, felt alone and abandoned, especially after Loki's attack on New York and London. She talks about how Darcy and Erik gave her hope, about how her romantic dreams did come true, but not in a way she ever could have imagined. That she feels guilty for having her Prince sometimes, because she loves Thor but she would kill to see Darcy happy too.

Natasha doesn't speak for the longest time, until everyone else is half asleep and more likely to think it a dream or forget it entirely. She speaks of loving James, for the first and last times, of how they were either fighting together or fighting each other. She runs her fingers through Darcy's hair and tells her that she loves him, and she hates him, that she would kill for him and possibly even die for him, that her life is tied with his in a way neither can deny, and she would not cut out his heart if he betrayed her like Clint betrayed Darcy

(because they had betrayed each other like that before, is the unspoken truth in Natasha's eyes, and Darcy squeezes her hand)

but she would be sorely tempted.

(the admission startles a laugh out of Darcy, and Natasha's lips twitch before smoothing out)

They fall asleep in a tangled pile, and the next morning's light is unkind to all, but Darcy feels lighter, better, somehow. She's not happy, she won't be until she speaks with the idiot royale himself, but she is surprisingly better and she thanks her sister-friends and ignores the looks they give each other

(at least, until breakfast, when they slide a StarkPad over with video of Clint at another conference, publicly announcing his divorce, years ago, with paperwork to prove it. There's another video behind it, security footage from JARVIS, that shows Clint relentlessly trying to call her phone, leaving message after message on her voicemail, in her inbox, in her texts, of Bucky and Steve restraining him while Natasha telling him to give her time)

but she can't ignore the letter, written in his blocky script, and she flees to the graveyard to kneel at Gran's side and beg her for advice. There's no advice this time, no whisper in the winds, no songs floating in her head, and she hangs her head in despair.

-o-

The girls leave not long after that, mission accomplished. She doesn't hate them, wishes them safe travels and to let her know when they've made it back safely. She doesn't make them any promises, and they don't try to extract any from her. They leave her with hugs and kisses on the cheek, and she sits at the table and reads the letter he's written her, listens to the voicemails, scans the texts and emails and at the end of it all, she's a mess. She's got enough strength left in her to send off a text before she drags herself upstairs

(Pepper left the RV blanket here, on purpose, she thinks, and she steals it from her bed to wrap herself in warmth while she waits)

and falls into a dreamless sleep. She wakes to the sun barely peeking over the horizon, to birdsong and the smell of gardenias and pine. She still feels lighter, still feels slightly better than she has, and rolls out of bed with a determined air. She grabs a tshirt,

(not Clint's, there are so few of them left that smell of him, she doesn't have the heart to use one of the last ones)

pulls on a pair of borderline sinful-short cutoffs, thick socks and her Docs.

-o-

Darcy is left to her own devices, and it's just what she needs. She picks up her room, hangs his jacket and her scarf near the door, twists her hair up

(she puts a flower in after all)

and gets to work. She dusts and sweeps, mops and vacuums, scrubs and cleans, polishes and dries. She works until her hands ache and her limbs feel like lead, a steady and consistent throb that leads her to collapse on the couch. She doesn't have the energy to eat, knows she's lost weight since he left for New York, but right now she doesn't care. Her shirt smells of cleaning products and dirt and sweat, but there's still a hint of him in the air and she breathes deep. The sun went down hours ago and there's no reply on her phone, no sign he even saw her text, and she sighs before forcing her body to move.

She washes off the grit and grime, washes away the sweat

(and if some of the water mixes with tears, who can tell)

to just stand under the spray, warm and cleansing in more than just a physical way. She knows that their fragile peace was broken, but her treacherous jigsaw heart wants him still. She knows it's only been a week since everything was torn apart again, knows it's only been a day since she sent her message, but she's still skittish and afraid. She knows she has no right to make certain demands of him. They are-were- too new for certain things, but her heart is strong and sure in that she wants those things from him, wants them for them. The future scares her, but thoughts of a future without him is terrifying

(and she dimly thinks that should scare her most of all, but her heart is warm and heavy in a way she hasn't felt in years),

When the water turns to cold, she turns off the faucet and steps out to dry off. She looks at her pretty nightgowns and silky panties in disdain; tonight is not a night for frivolity and decoration. She finds a pair of plain black boyshorts, pulls out the last of his clean tshirts and wraps herself in his scent. She breathes deep, one two three, but her nerves aren't calmed and she knows sleep won't come for her tonight and so makes her way downstairs. The black-violet sits in her knitting basket, ready and waiting, and she sighs as she picks up her needles.

There's no music this time, no accompanying chatter, just Darcy and the noise of her needles. She loses herself in the repetition, her needles clicking as her hands work steadily. It's soothing in a way she's almost forgotten, and the skeins of yarn next to her grows steadily smaller as she works through the night. It's not until the sun is peeking over the horizon, painting the house red and gold and pink, that she stops and goes to wash her hands that she hears the crunch of gravel underneath the birdsong and the wind.

She makes her way to the door in time to see him step out of a pickup truck, license plate giving it away as a rental. She waits as he grabs a duffel from the back, waits as he gives the house an uneasy look

(he's wearing sunglasses, but she knows that set of his shoulders, knows that tension in his frame)

before he makes his way up the stairs. His boot hasn't touched the top stair before she's opening the door and stepping onto the porch. He meets her midway, sliding his sunglasses off so she can see his face; she winces at how tired he looks, how he has lines and wrinkles that weren't there before, stubble he hasn't bothered to shave. She holds his face between her hands and stands on her tiptoes to kiss him, and he's hesitant in a way he's never been

(it's a way that makes her kiss harder, fiercer, trying to prove that she wasn't going anywhere)

until he gently sets her back on her feet, his face tight as he digs in his pocket for something. She waits as he pulls out his phone, holds it out for her to see

(Come back to me)

and she arches a brow and nods. The tension bleeds from him then and he sags against her in relief, brilliant smile buried against her neck as he crushes her close. She wraps her arms around him and holds him close, breathing in the scent of sweat and heat and Clint that she's missed, and neither talk about the tears they feel dampening their skin.

-o-

It's not until later that they actually speak. Clint is so exhausted from his flight and drive to make it out to her, straight from a mission with the team that he couldn't escape, that all he can do is stumble upstairs and pull Darcy into bed with him. She doesn't complain, just curls close and falls asleep to his heartbeat under her hand. They wake up, hours later, when his phone rings and rings until he answers in vicious-sounding Russian. She laughs at the look on his face and he throws the phone into the hamper across the room in disgust.

(“Tasha. Wanted to make sure I made it safely.”

“Wanted to make sure I didn't shoot you, more likely.”

“Stabbed, according to her, but the sentiment remains.”)

They crawl out of bed

(he grins to see her in one of his shirts, she rolls her eyes but puts a flower in her hair anyway)

and make their way to the kitchen, where Clint does his best to go through her replenished stores. She doesn't think she can eat even a quarter of what he makes, but when he sits her at the table and serves her a pile of bacon and eggs and biscuits, she finds she's ravenous and devours everything on her plate. He's too busy eating himself to make a comment, but she can see the concern warring with amusement in his eyes and she knows that there will be conversations in their future.

She moves to clean the dishes when they're done, but he's pulling her away from the sink, a look in his eyes that makes her heart ache and she goes to him willingly. He doesn't speak, just holds her, her head tucked beneath his chin, and she closes her eyes and breathes him in.

-o-

They spend the rest of the day together. He changes into clean clothes, but she keeps his shirt

(a violet so dark it's almost black, and she doesn't miss the way his eyes darken when he sees her in it)

and curls in his lap after his shower. He runs his hands through her hair, stealing her flower and twirling it between his fingers. She plays with the hair at the nape of his neck, pressing kisses to his jaw. Neither of them are keen to talk, content to just touch each other and exist, but eventually the peace has to end.

Clint is the one to break the silence, rolling to his side and watching her face carefully, cautiously, as he starts to talk. He tells her about his childhood, about abandonment and abuse. He tells her how he went from orphanage to circus, from crime to service, and how he fucked up every part of his life in between. He tells her about Natasha and Bobbi, tells her about Kate

(Kate, she didn't know about, and doesn't hide her jerk of her surprise when he tells her he's training her)

and how he's never really had a home, not until she came along and showed him exactly what a few kind words and thoughts could do. He tells her about how he was dismissive of her in New Mexico, unsure of her in New York, jealous of the other Avengers when they earned her smiles, until he finally faced the facts and admitted he cared for her in ways that went beyond friendship. He tells her that his life was always dark, always lonely, that he learned early that home was an illusion, but since she came into his life, there's light and warmth and maybe a chance for something that doesn't reek of death and despair

(she asks him if he's calling her his sunshine, and he laughs at the comparison.

“Sorry sweetheart, but there's no way in hell you're sunshine. You've got darkness in you now, and while you've still got light, you're not the sun.”

“So what, I'm your moon?” she shoots back, and he gives her a soft grin that makes her heart flutter.

“Nah, not my moon. You're more like... my guiding star. Or something. I'm really terrible at poetry and I'm not quoting Game of Thrones.”

“That's alright. I'm pretty terrible at it too.” she manages through a choked throat, “but I'm not gonna start calling you my dark knight or anything like that.”

“Good.” he rolls her underneath him. “Batman has nothing on Hawkeye and I don't want my girl thinking otherwise.”)

He admits he was an idiot, admits he should have told her about Bobbi sooner, but he was so scared his past was going to scare her off that he just couldn't, and he was so sorry for being such an asshole, could she forgive him?

She giggles and pulls him into a kiss, whispering and soothing all his fears between each press of their lips. She tells him about how the girls came to see her, how they passed along his messages, how they didn't tell her to take him back but didn't tell her to leave him behind, either. She tells him about her own past, about losing her Gran and home and finding it all over again. She tells him that while she loves this house, it's not truly home anymore, that home is a dysfunctional group of superheroes and scientists, but she still wants to keep the house so there's a place for them to run away to, and maybe, possibly, someday, call their home

(the rest of her words are lost in his kiss, frantic and fast and hard in a way she hasn't felt since he left for New York, and she knows that they're in this together, knows he wants it all too but doesn't want to ask for fear of pushing too hard, asking too much, too soon)

and she laughs at his look of dazed wonder. 

-o-

It takes Evie more time to come around, but that's because she's enjoying making Clint suffer. Darcy nearly bursts her sides laughing at his expression when he realizes she's having him on, but kisses away his pout with a promise of presents when they make it back to the Tower.

(his grin is downright filthy, and she dazedly remembers to ask Natasha about places to go and things to buy before he pulls her back into a kiss)

She takes him out to the cemetery to meet Gran and Gramps, to say hello and thank you for raising such a lovely strong woman as their granddaughter. She laughs and tells him about how her grandparents met, about stolen kisses under starry skies

(he gets a thoughtful look on his face and doesn't answer, just kisses her questions away)

and how they always wanted something just as strong, just as powerful and earth-shaking for her, and he gives her a crooked grin and tells her grandparents' tombstones that he'll try his damnedest to give her that, because she deserves nothing less

(she wipes at her eyes and he doesn't mention it, just pulls her close as they walk back up to the house together)

and she thinks she hears Gran's laughter, light and teasing in the wind, and she laughs with her.

-o-

For the second time in her life, Darcy Lewis packs up her childhood home. This time is different, this time is new. Clint helps her put the wrapped dishes into boxes, distracts her with quick kisses and over-performing all the songs on the radio. He teases her when he uncovers pictures and mementos of a younger Darcy, full of curls and wildflowers and scraped knees from climbing through the woods.

They decide to leave the new furniture here, their rooms at the Tower already furbished and well-maintained. She jokes and says its for the best, given how often things get broken, but he makes a face and promises to talk to Pepper about furniture that fits them better than the current idea of modern and sleek.

(“I come from Iowa, sweetheart. I'm as Midwest as you are. Modern's never been my thing.”

“So you're saying heavy wood and ugly fabrics?”

“The ugliest.”)

When it gets to be too much after the first day of packing, he makes it his mission to cheer her up. He laughs with her, holds her close when she cries, and buries his face in her hair when they sleep at night. It works; she's happy, but still a little sad. Her jigsaw heart is fluttering and pounding because once again, home is cardboard boxes and white dust cloths, empty rooms and bare floors, but this time there's a promise of something beautiful and more waiting for her

(she hears Clint warbling along to the radio in the kitchen and she bursts into laughter through her tears)

and she doesn't want to wait anymore.  Later, when he's sleeping, she takes her necklace and slips it over his neck.  He jolts awake in surprise, giving her a bemused look before realizing the new weight on his chest isn't a dream.

("Huh."

"Is that all you can say?  Huh?"

"Give a man a break, Darcy, it's not every day he gets proposed to when he's sleeping."

"I didn't propose!"

"Pretty sure that's what gold rings mean, sweetheart.  Look, you even got me an engagement and wedding band, right here."

"Oh my god you are such an ass-"

"Hey Darce?"

"What?"

"For the record, the answer's yes.")

Darcy makes a point of going into town with him. She sits in the passenger seat of his truck and watches him drive with ease. He looks good behind the wheel, easy and loose in a way she hasn't seen in a while. They go to the bank first, and she grins savagely when the whispers start. She grabs his hand and tugs him along to the counter, and he smirks at her from under his cowboy hat when the whispers rise in volume

(she empties out the safe deposit box and makes him carry all of it. He even opens the door for her, his grin easy and only slightly mocking as he walks backwards, and she laughs all the way back to the truck)

which is nothing compared to when she drags him to the County Fair and he wins all the carnival games with ease. He keeps one prize, a bear with a shiny Cupid's bow, and gives the rest to Evie and her friends. They twitter like schoolgirls when he tips his hat and winks at them; she watches with a smile and a fullness in her heart that has everything to do with him. He swaggers back and hands her the Cupid bear, she grins into its fuzzy head and names it Chickadee.

They call Pepper to arrange for delivery to the Tower, and receive a promise to have their suite ready for them

(“You mean suites, right Pepper?”

“Right, suites.” the CEO gives a laugh and Darcy's eyes narrow.

“You're a shit liar, Stark.”

“Like you really care, Lewis.”)

when they arrive in town. The most important items are sitting in boxes near the front door, carefully marked and ready for the back of Clint's rental. The silver, the jewelry, photographs and records and her favorite nightgowns

(Clint's favorites too, but he freely admits the sight of her anytime, let alone in satin and silk, is enough to strike him dumb)

and a small clipping from the gardenia tree, heavy with blooms and ready to be re-potted when they land in New York. Her old sewing machine and her wheel are next to the boxes, but the dye pots and loom have to stay for the movers

(“Darce, you know I'm crazy about you, but I am not Steve or Thor or even Natasha. There is no way I'm moving that by myself and you know it.”)

and she smiles and hums as she trails her hand over the aged wood. It isn't where she imagined her home would be, but she thinks there's no other place she'd rather be.

-o-

Clint's busy while she's being maudlin, packing up the last of the non-perishable food in the kitchen, while the perishables were put to the side to be used tonight. Evie nearly shouts Darcy's ears off when she calls to tell her they're leaving tomorrow

(“Not without a proper goodbye, you ain't!”

“Evie-”

“You ain't winning this one, Darcy-girl, so hush and let an old woman say goodbye to her best friend's granddaughter.”)

and said to leave everything they weren't able to take in the fridge, she and her girls would take care of the rest. Darcy can only laugh and tell her yes ma'am and ask her for some of her deviled eggs.

They find themselves on the porch swing, rocking back and forth in the setting sun. Darcy knows that Evie and her family will be here soon, their own pots and pans and utensils and food to go into the kitchen, but can't bring herself to care. Clint's got his arm around her shoulders, playing with a curl of her hair, and she hums in pleasure. It's drowsy-warm out, the light golden and soft, and she thinks it can't get any better than this.

She's proven wrong when Evie pulls up in her Jeep, her sons pull up in their trucks and SUVs, and four generations of adopted family spill out onto her lawn. Blankets are produced, grills set up, dishes are taken into the kitchen, and she loses Clint to the promise of manly talk over the grill and beer. She doesn't mind when she sees Jenny, Evie's granddaughter, holding her newborn daughter, and she's lost to childhood friends and memories. Some time after the first servings of grilled chicken and burgers move onto plates, Clint reappears with beers, his arm sliding around her waist and her head falling to his shoulder. It's easy and natural, and judging by the look on his face, he thinks so too and kisses her temple.

After the second servings, Rita and Marianna and Anna Jean show up with their families, and then Emma and Sarah James show up with their families, and soon the Lewis house is a town-wide party, complete with screaming children and fireworks that Darcy is sure came off the back of a truck last Fourth of July. Through it all, Clint is by her side, his eyes warm and intense as he looks at her, and she blushes every time.

Eventually, the children are bundled home and only the adults are left. Darcy turns around from hugging Jenny goodbye and sure enough, there's a bonfire crackling in her driveway and Clint is smirking next to William Siles and Carson Lee. She lets herself get dragged into the shenanigans, laughing as Evie hollers at them to behave, and winds up sitting in Clint's lap as they sing along to Carson and Sarah's playing. It's nowhere near as lively as it was when Jane and Pepper left, but it's lively enough, and Darcy knows it's because this time, she's leaving for real.

Clint outright shocks her when he borrows Sarah's banjo and plucks out a few chords, chuckling at her dumbstruck expression.

(“I told ya, Darce, carnie. Kind of obligatory, you know?”

“No, I don't. I think I need a thorough education on the subject. Starting with each instrument and going from there.”

“I see, you're only with me for the music.”

“Only if you play the guitar too.”

“Lucky you, it was my first.”

“Guitar's my favorite, so lucky you, indeed.”)

before launching into a surprisingly good rendition of “I'll Fly Away”. Darcy, once she recovers from her shock, sings along with him, their voices rising and blending into the night. It's not until they're done and he's handing Sarah her banjo back that Darcy realizes no one else joined in, but they're all grinning at her in the firelight and she realizes with a start

(“Oh hell,” she whispers, watching him take a drink of lukewarm beer.

“Just now realizing it, huh Darcy-girl?” Carson nudges her in her side.

“Carson Lee, you have no idea.” she says slowly and makes her way back to Clint's side)

this was the last piece of her broken heart, to see him here, her future with her past, and she pulls him into a kiss that tastes of summertime and starlight.

-o-

They arrive back at the Tower to discover Tony is a bigger asshole than either could predict, and has merged Darcy's suite with Clint's. Pepper is only mildly apologetic, Jane is gleeful, Thor gives congratulations mixed with warning, and Steve manages to be both judgmental and supportive all in one. Bruce doesn't say anything, just gives him a green-eyed look, and Bucky merely grins and melts out of his line of sight

(“Seriously Darce, never break up with me. Even if you post it on CNN that you've left me for Clooney, they'll still turn me into pulp.”

“Well then, you better get on with those music performances, carnie.”)

and Natasha outright laughs at their protests

(“But what if we didn't want to live together so soon?”

“Then you would be back in your little sub-level on Thor's floor, listening to him and Jane having sex and pretending you weren't sneaking into Clint's room every night, or him into yours.”)

before sliding the last box of yarn into Darcy's new crafting area. It's filled with her machines and tools, both old and new, and she can't help but smile at the picture it makes. Clint's made good on his promise about speaking to Pepper, and all their furniture is now heavy oak and pine, with thick heavy cushions and no chrome in sight. The cupboards are full of her heavy crockery, the copper and cast iron hanging on the kitchen wall. Kerosene lamps sit on the kitchen table, rugs lay on the floors, and her pillows of faded blue silk decorate their overstuffed couch. Darcy takes her pictures and hangs them all over the suite, mixing in a few of her favorites from Steve

(the rest going around the common room, and Steve ducks his head and blushes whenever someone compliments them)

with some of Clint's bows and his entire collection of ridiculous movie posters

(“Godzilla is a classic and you should be honored to have him on the wall.”

“Oh my god, Clint, you are such a dork.”

“Yeah, but you love it.”

“God help me, I do.”)

but leave her family silver in the dining room.  She informs him that nothing is to happen to it, even if an intruder breaks in and he needs a weapon, and he mock-solemnly agrees

(until he finds out that she's supposed to use it for her wedding, and the birth of her first child, and his mocking turns to truth)

while making her promise to never make him get rid of his TV. Her books on crafting and cooking and gardening mix with his books on strategy and history and (surprisingly) romance, until the bookshelf is groaning under the weight and they replace it with smaller, stouter shelves with heavy bookends picked up in cheesy Midwest tourist shops. The gardenia cutting survives the trip, and takes to its new pot with alarming success. Darcy re-pots it at least three times before she surrenders, unable to even lift it out of the dirt. She calls on Thor and Steve to help, and pays them back in cuttings for their own rooms. Soon gardenias trees are growing in every Avengers' quarters, and Darcy grins whenever she sees the sun filtering through the leaves.

They ignore the Tower's wine cellar and instead keep a collection of beer, import and domestic and craft, hidden in what Clint originally calls his man cave and Darcy rechristens their Secret Nest

(“God Darce, that's such an easy one. Aren't you better than that?”

“Exactly. Why mess with perfection?”)

because she's in there almost as much as he is. They occasionally argue about what goes on the stereo, but they always take turns singing to each other over dinner. He keeps his word and plays his guitar for her, and she rewards him with the ridiculous purple and black mohawk hat she made so long ago. His eyes light up and she wonders if it was a mistake to give it to him

(she learns he's never really had anyone give him something so heartfelt. He's had gifts, sure, presents when he was at the orphanage and when Barney could steal it for him, but never anything made just for him, and her heart aches and she swears to make it up to him)

but comes to the conclusion it wasn't, because she underestimates how much he loves ridiculous clothes and embarrassing her at the same time. He constantly wears it when they're out together in public, pairing it with his new jacket (she refused to give his old one back) and his mirrored sunglasses, so she makes herself a matching hat and buys matching glasses and they're ridiculous together.

-o-

She gives him the rest of his gifts slowly, one piece at a time. The scarf and gloves are first, and she's nearly squashed when he tackles her on the couch in delight

(he's not allowed to take them with on missions, and he tells he that he wouldn't, even if he could, because something so good shouldn't become tainted. She doesn't argue, doesn't fight; months ago, Natasha told her the same. She promises to watch over them until he gets back and can wear them again, and instead tucks monogrammed handkerchiefs with lipstick kisses into his gear. He never talks about them, doesn't tell her to stop, and she finds them one day, all of them packed neatly into a drawer in his office and she swears she isn't crying)

The shawl, while technically not for him, is next. Stark throws a fancy dress party, and in protest of having to attend, she picks a sleeveless white dress that practically glows in the low light. She drapes the shawl over her shoulders and secures it with a hawk-shaped brooch.

(Clint isn't aware of her choice until she arrives to the party and his jaw drops at the pattern of feathers. She smirks at his expression before spinning for him, her hair held back with a white rose, and he kisses off her lipstick in revenge.)

She finishes his sweater in secret while he's away on missions, the black-violet knitting up beautifully until it's warm and soft, the stitches small and uniform and she's so damned proud. It's not the first thing she's made from scratch, but it's just so perfect for him that she doesn't think she'll ever be able to make anything that can compare. She holds onto it until Christmas, when he blows back into town on a north wind that smells of pine and snow.

(He takes it with a distracted smile, and she's worried that something's wrong because he's fumbling his words and nervous in a way that he so rarely displays. She thinks that it's ending, that he's going to push her away, and she doesn't know whether to scream or cry or both when he hands her a small wooden box with a star-shaped diamond ring inside)

-o-

They get married at the house in the summer. She wears a white cocktail dress and veil made of handmade lace, lips painted red. In her hands, she carries a bouquet of wildflowers and gardenias. He wears a pearl-buttoned Western shirt, with black jeans and cowboy boots and his old battered cowboy hat. They invite their crazy super-family, and somehow half the town shows up anyway. He kisses away her lipstick to the cheers of the crowd, and she throws her bouquet with a little too much energy

(Jane is terrified and Natasha is gloating, but Clint mentions the looks both Thor and Bucky were sporting and Darcy laughs into his chest)

that translates into one hell of a honeymoon.

-o-

Six months later, she gives him another gift, this one wrapped in blue ribbons and tied in a pretty bow. He opens it to find a small quilt, made from small embroidered squares,

(“Uh, Darce, this is kinda small for us.”

“For us, yeah,” she rolls her eyes in exasperation. “Do I need to spell it out for you, birdbrain?”)

and it's perfect and beautiful and he grins before kissing her senseless.

(“See, this is why we're in this situation to begin with!”

“Darcy, beloved wife, light of my life, mother of my future child?”

“Yes Clint, beloved husband, Han to my Leia, father of my current stomach nugget?”

“Shut up and let's celebrate.”)